In Sickness and In Health

Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40
March 24, 2014 at 6:00 a.m. Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD and Charles Peck

As we age, we often develop chronic medical conditions that can affect our life and our relationships. New treatment methods are promising, but most people with chronic pain or chronic illness still have a long road ahead of them, and their partners have challenges on this journey as well.

If you are dating in midlife or as an “elder,” you may wonder when to disclose that you have diabetes, a heart condition, or any other medical issue that is not immediately apparent. You certainly don’t want or need to describe your health problems on a first date, but don’t make them a big secret, either. At the point when you feel comfortable in revealing other personal information (such as the reason for your divorce or the fact that your father is an alcoholic), tell your dating partner the basics about your health condition and its impact on your life. Emphasize the positive ways in which you cope with these challenges and pay attention to the verbal and nonverbal response to your disclosure. You are looking for a partner who is considerate without becoming a “rescuer.”

Once you are in a committed relationship, you and your partner need to work together and communicate clearly about the effects of chronic pain or illness. Not too surprisingly, people who are suffering are sometimes crabby and may be downright miserable to be around. Pain tends to make one self-absorbed, which isn’t so great for relationships. It’s tough for even the most loving partner to handle the ups and downs of mood and ability that go along with chronic conditions. The consequences of chronic pain or chronic illness may include limitations on a person’s ability to work, to travel, to engage in leisure activities, or even to be sexually active. Together, you can develop “work-arounds” that allow you to live life as fully as possible.

To cope effectively with a chronic condition, consider these guidelines:

  • Both partners need to learn as much as possible about the condition and ensure that the best possible treatments (both traditional and alternative) are tried.
  • The ill partner can make a true effort to listen, empathize, and support the well partner, so that the relationship isn’t a one-way street.
  • The well partner can do everything possible to see things from the other person’s perspective and maintain a compassionate outlook. This is much more likely if you have support from others.
  • The well partner needs to engage in as much self-care as is possible under the circumstances. Those in caregiving roles often find that their own health suffers.
  • The ill partner should find creative ways to contribute to the work of the household and the family. Perhaps you can’t carry out the trash cans, but you may be able to clean the toilet or pay the bills online. You don’t want your partner to have to carry 100% of the burden.
  • Work to find positive topics of conversation and shared interests. Talking about pain and illness all the time is not only depressing, but may even make the perception of pain more acute.
  • Keep your sense of humor and your sense of perspective. Enjoy what you can together.

Previous Magic at Midlife Columns:

Step-Grandparenting Can Be Grand

Enjoy Life Together

Online Dating for the Older Set

Enjoying the Single Life

True Love

Sex in Midlife Relationships: Complicated but Wonderful!

Upgrade Your Communication Skills

Tending Your Relationship as You Tend to Aging Parents

Learning from Your Relationship History

When Extrovert Meets Introvert

What Do You Want in the Long Run?

Creating Holidays for Changing Families

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